Despite more than a dozen appearances as walkers in AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead, Erin Leigh Bushko didn’t originally set out to be a zombie or an author. Now she’s both.
“I am actually a ‘real’ actor as some say,” she explained. “I have a BFA in Musical Theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Master’s in Shakespearean Acting from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.”
Bushko’s early roles included small parts in major movies like The Replacements and The Invasion, but eventually she found her way into the world of zombies and The Walking Dead.
“I had worked on Zombieland previously, as well as having years and years of haunted house experience. I worked for several small haunts in Virginia, then spent five years at Netherworld Haunted House in Georgia,” Bushko said. “Having that experience, they invited me to Zombie School, where I worked with Greg Nicotero and their movement coach. They graded us, and Greg stopped me afterward saying how much he loved my work.”
Being a part of the show from the beginning, Bushko has played a variety of parts, from background zombies to the forefront “hero” walkers, including perhaps two of the more iconic. Even those casually aware of the show has probably seen the jawless female zombie she played in Season 1.
“I loved doing the jawless zombie simply because it was so iconic and was used for t shirts and pins and media stuff,” Bushko said. “It’s flattering to have your face on merchandise, even if you look gross.”
In the Season 3 episode “Clear” she was featured as one of the few walkers to actually have a name.
“I got to play a zombie named Erin, which was really cool because it was a complete coincidence I shared her name,” she said. “They even had a charm bracelet with her/my name on it that is featured in the scene.”
Another memorable experience for Bushko was playing the bog walker. The experience stands out to her for several reasons.
“I actually got an apology from Greg on set when he dumped ten bottles of water on me so I looked like I climbed out of the river,” she said. “But the best part was when they had a fake head that looked like me and i got to watch them smash it with a baseball bat and the thing exploded. It’s not every day you get to watch your own head burst open.”
Making a living as a member of the living dead has had its own set of problems, however. And it’s in that area that Bushko found the inspiration for her book, a collection of poems with a message for parents.
“Unfortunately, when you get known for something like The Walking Dead, no one cares about your other work, they just want to hear about that one thing because it’s now pop culture,” she explained. “Zombie Girl’s poem kind of evolved from that feeling of people not seeing deeper than the ‘zombie’ version of Erin.”
Bushko said after writing the first poem, the others followed quickly. She hopes the finished book, which is available now, can help parents impart some important life lessons on their children.
“I have always found it fascinating the huge life lessons that kids miss out on because their parents think they can’t handle it,” she said. “Kids are stronger and more resilient than we could ever imagine. And unfortunately by coddling children we can do more harm than good.”
As one might expect from a book called Zombie Girl, one of the topics tackled is death. Bushko said that, while it is scary, death is a part of life and something kids need to learn about.
“If you don’t explain death to a child, they may grow up feeling abandon or at fault when it comes to death,” she said.
The book uses a variety of lengths and styles to engage readers, and draws inspiration from other writers readers might be familiar with.
“Some poems are long, some are short, some are funny, some are serious, but they all have lessons to teach. I liked setting them all in a world that’s a bit creepy – I love being inspired by Tim Burton and Shel Silverstein,” Bushko said. “I also was lucky to work with artist Owen Smith, who did an amazing job of capturing the essence of each creepy character in his art.”
For more information or to order the book, visit https://www.createspace.com/4431879 or http://www.amazon.com. The book and Bushko both have Facebook pages and Bushko’s website, which includes information on all her projects, is located at http://www.jawlesszombie.com.